Pajari heading confidently into the JWRC finale in Monza
The FIA Junior World Rally Championship season 2020 will come to an end in the coming weekend at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza and the surrounding areas in northern Italy. The just turned 19-year-old Sami Pajari starts his first tarmac rally within reach of the championship together with his co-driver Marko Salminen.
The format of the event is something never seen before in WRC: the circuit of Monza is used to the maximum by combining different sections of the old cambered oval track, the modern F1 track and service roads between them. The fast track sections are slowed down with chicanes and by crossing the infield through sand, mud and grass sections, which become especially slippery when driven with tarmac tires. The ten different special stages created on the track area make up an unique challenge to drivers, who tackle them on Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
Saturday in turn is driven on more traditional types of rally roads as the route takes the drivers to the serpentine roads among the Italian Alps just north of Bergamo. There the temperature can at times go down to almost 0 C° with the potential for the weather to change rapidly and unpredictably. A very different set of conditions than where the pair drove their previous outing almost two months before at the Mediterranean island of Sardinia in early October. Originally both a practice event and the then-to-be final round of JWRC in Belgium were scheduled for Pajari, but both events were cancelled due to Covid-19.
Even as the youngest driver in the JWRC series, Pajari has not shied away from displaying blistering speed and commitment: he has so far driven more fastest stage times than any of his rivals during this JWRC season. This has also resulted in a well earned set of championship points, as unlike other WRC classes, the juniors are rewarded with a single point for each fastest special stage time. Furthermore, only three of the four events of the JWRC season will be included in each driver’s final points, making the special stage points event more important. The championship is still wide open before the final event, especially as it’s points are multiplied by 1,5 compared to other events of the season: the winner gets 37,5 points compared to 25. With the final event to go, Pajari is third with only 14 points behind the leading Martins Sesks from Latvia and 4 points behind the swede Tom Kristensson in second place.
To boost his chances, Pajari has spent time on the tarmac of race circuits in Finland. Involved in aiding him to get the most out of the precious practice time has been the most experienced WRC driver of all time, Jari-Matti Latvala. Latvala has himself scored numerous podiums and victories on tarmac and Sami has been keen to learn everything he can from the former works teams’ driver.
“We’ve been able to rack up quite the number of test kilometres on tarmac for a single event this autumn, but of course it all helps out in the future as well. Also on Monday we had a successful test here in Lombardia, where the weather conditions sure are interesting: down in the valley at the track it can be 10 degrees warm and high up in the mountains it can drop even below zero. There can be snow and ice on the route and on Tuesday during the recce we were completely surrounded by fog with almost no visibility at all.
“Of course tarmac isn’t quite yet as familiar as a surface as gravel, but we are starting the event in high spirits nonetheless. On Thursday we see how our speed compares to others, when the shakedown and the opening special stage are driven,” recaps Pajari, who just turned 19 on the recce day of the rally on Tuesday.
ACI Rally Monza consists of 16 special stages and 241 special stage kilometres over the four days from Thursday to Sunday. Pajari and Salminen start the rally with the number 40. The winner of the event and the JWRC champion will be known late afternoon on the coming Sunday.